There’s a saying, thought originally to be a Chinese proverb, but often credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Few statements are truer when it comes to learning how to do something, do anything.
When I taught, I made every effort to do the last on this list, involve my students. I also prefer to learn by doing things hands on too. Few people can just be told what to do and learn. Most of us learn by jumping right in. And that’s what I’ve done with my writing. Jump right in.
Not long ago, I had a rare opportunity for a fledgling TV, play and film writer. I had the opportunity to discuss my 30-minute TV comedy with a fairly well-known actor, writer and producer who is a huge ally of the LGBTQ community.
I was able to get 45 minutes of undivided attention with him over the phone. We discussed Kushy’s concept, characters, logline and more.
For all the books and sites and coverage I’d bought and feedback I’d gotten from peers, nothing was more enlightening than actually diving into the Kushy’s Treatment/Bible with this actor.
His enthusiasm for my work was unexpected too. Comments like, “This is fucking genius, Avery. This has everything that’s relevant to today.” To clarify, Kushy’s pushes the “envelope” by honestly looking at racism, religion, LGBTQ, drugs in the U.S. in a dark comedic manner. There is a battle between family members over religion, drugs (marijuana) and queerness, for example.
But talking with him, being involved in a truly collaborative process, not just reading and writing and getting feedback without interaction, but actual “we’re talking all this out” and being involved, opened my eyes to not only what I was doing exceptionally well as a self-taught writer, but what my characters and plot were missing.
As writers, we tend to get attached to our writing. We have egos. And writing is most definitely a solitary venture. Let’s just be honest, eh? We are creatives and creatives are a pain in the ass to deal with quite often. It’s hard hearing that something doesn’t work. Creatives often don’t take criticism well, even if it truly is constructive criticism.
Add that here are sooooo many opinions on each topic, and we get to a point that we often just say “Fuck it” and move on.
For example, I recently had a former Hollywood pro give Kushy’s–which was a quarter-finalist in Scriptapalooza’s Fall 2018 Television Writing Competition–say that he didn’t know if Network TV would even consider the script because of the one nude scene in the Cold Open. He also wasn’t fond of the racist language and he apparently missed the reason the main character and his brother are arguing.
However, he did point out that the main place in which the story takes place is a main character too. Since that coverage, I’ve worked on revising the script to better showcase the main setting of the 30-minute TV comedy.
But I shirked at the other stuff because an active actor, a current writer and producer, GOT IT. He understood, just from my treatment, what it was lacking and what was “genius” in the script and concept. He loved the nude scene, seeing it as relevant since the character was about to undergo a re-birth, a new chapter in his life and it was because he was about to hit rock-bottom with only one place to go: Home.
That’s the take-away from my years of working on TV shows, plays and features: Get involved with active writers, actors, producers, etc. Talk to them as much as you can. Even if that means donating $150 to a crowdfunding campaign to do it–like I did–then do it. Hearing from them, literally engaging with them verbally, will alter your view of your own work.
But first: Take the ego out of it.